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Duties of a Minister 8

17 Apr

DISCOURSE 4

 

“But we will give ourselves continually to prayer,

and to the ministry of the word,” <440604>Acts 6:4.

 

PART 1.

 

  1. ATTENTION to, and fidelity in the exercise of, the duty of prayer, is not

one of those obligations which are peculiar to the ministry of the gospel. It

is one of the most essential duties of Christianity. Every real Christian is a

man of prayer: his views, his desires, his hopes, his affections, yea, even

his conversation, are all in heaven. Every Christian is a citizen of the world

to come, and a stranger here below: all exterior objects which here surround

him should be to him only so many ties and obstacles, which, retarding his

course and prolonging his banishment, ought to increase and inflame his

desire after his country: all the temptations which the world offers or throws

it his way, all his secret conflicts with his passions —

 

all these should lead

him to lift up his eyes continually to heaven; there to send up his sighs and

prayers, and to address himself in secret, and in every place, to that faithful,

heavenly, invisible witness of all his dangers, and all his troubles, from

whose protection alone he expects his consolation and his strength. Every

Christian, then, is a man of prayer; and he who lives not in the exercise and

spirit of prayer, is a man without God, without divine worship, without

religion, without hope; and if this be an incontestable truth, what

instructions are not due to the people, to animate them to the love and

exercise of prayer.

 

  1. But, my brethren, if the spirit of prayer be the soul of Christianity; if that

homage of love which we render to God in publishing his greatness and

loving kindness, or in soliciting his mercies and succors — if all other

ordinances of the gospel are only helps and assistants to this spirit of

prayer; if all external worship be established only to form of the simple

believer the man of devotion, the man of prayer; if he who calls himself a

Christian, and possesses not this spirit, and of course lives not in the

exercise of it, be without religion, without God, without hope; what a

monster must be the minister of this religion, an interpreter of its laws, an

expounder of its doctrines, a dispenser of its graces, a public intercessor

before God for the faithful, if he himself be not a man of prayer; if he be not

faithful to this essential duty! O, my brethren, if there be any among you

who do not feel the full power of these truths, what cause have we to

lament on your account, before that holy dove, that true source of the spirit

of prayer, who groans and prays incessantly in the hearts and by the

mouths of his ministers!

 

  1. St. Peter went up upon the housetop to pray, <441009>Acts 10:9. In our text

we are informed, that all the apostles were resolved to give themselves

continually to prayer: and from the gospels we find that our Lord himself

spent whole nights in prayer, on mountains, and in other secret places,

<401423>Matthew 14:23, etc. And shall any of us presume to live in the omission

of the frequent and habitual exercise of this supporting, nourishing,

quickening, indispensable duty? But I have known many of you, my

brethren, for years; and am confident that one of the most leading features

of your character is the exercise of this holy duty in its spirit and power. I

therefore chiefly desire to stir up your pure minds to remembrance: and O

that I may be the means, under divine grace, by this little mite of love, of

confirming you in your present spirit: yea, of animating you to still greater

fidelity and to higher degrees of fervor in this blessed conversation with

Heaven.

 

  1. We are called to be the lights of those who are in darkness: but it is

prayer and study, always accompanied to the sincere minister of the gospel

with the divine light, which truly renders us lights to the people. Prayer

may be termed the science of the heart, that alone renders useful those

studies which form the science of the mind.

 

  1. It was the indubitable and experimental conviction of this truth,

confirmed to them by the infallible inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God,

which induced the college of apostles to come to the determination in my

text, “We will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of

the word:” not that they did not before live in the exercise, and spirit, and

very life of prayer; but they were determined now to lay aside every weight

which duty could dispense with, and give themselves up more entirely than

ever to this holy communion with God.

 

  1. It is probable that, like Moses of old, the apostles had, from motives of

pure love, taken an active share in all the minutest parts of the temporal

affairs of the church: but a murmuring arising between the Grecians (that is

to say, such converted Jews as had been dispersed abroad among the

Greeks) and the Hebrews, in respect to the distribution of the church’s

money among their widows respectively, the apostles embrace this

opportunity of shaking off that heavy burden, which so intruded upon the

more important parts of their ministerial and apostolic functions; declaring

that they would give themselves “continually to prayer and to the ministry

of the word”

 

  1. We must here observe to prevent mistakes, that though the apostles

delivered up the management of the poor, and other inferior points, to the

direction of subordinate officers of the church, they still reserved in

themselves the ultimate power of decision in all matters which they judged

of sufficient importance to call for their interference: this is evidently clear

from the following chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. But we proceed to

show how indispensably necessary the duty of constant prayer, which the

apostles themselves could by no means dispense with, is for every minister

of the gospel; having already enlarged upon the other subject, of the

ministry of the word, in my former discourses.

 

  1. In considering the present subject, we shall, first, show the necessity of

continual prayer, as it respects ourselves, particularly considered in our

ministerial capacity; and then, secondly, as it respects our flocks.

 

  1. FIRST, AS IT RESPECTS OURSELVES.
  2. The temptations we meet with, to distaste and weariness in our duties,

can only be overcome by the exercise and life of prayer.

 

If we would fill up our ministry with fidelity, we must wholly devote

ourselves to it; we must sacrifice our ease, our rest, to fill up its various

calls; we cannot dispose of our time as we please: it is a holy servitude,

which makes us no longer our own, but wholly the people’s: we must be

able to say with the apostle, that heat and cold, fatigue, difficult roads,

hunger and thirst, are some of the fruits of our ministry, and signs of our

apostleship. We even often labor among the ungrateful: our pains are often

recompensed with indifference, unteachableness, and murmurs; yea, they

sometimes draw upon us the aversion of those whose salvation we seek.

 

When we are under these trials, we have reason to guard against disgust

and discouragement. We are ready, perhaps, to throw up the great work in

which we are engaged, when we see not the end of it, and but little of the

fruits. On such occasions, self-love, unsupported by the wished for

success, reclaims its rights, and secretly insinuates, that such painful and

apparently almost useless cares cannot be our duties. Now how can we

possibly support ourselves under such temptations to disgust as these are,

which are dangerous, and so frequent in the course of a long and laborious

ministry, if we do not continually renew our strength at the feet of Jesus

Christ — If we have not the consolation of continually drawing near to him

to open to him all our sorrows and discouragements, as to the great

Shepherd whose place we occupy. It is there we shall be confounded before

him, for making any account of the light troubles of our functions, when

compared to those of the first propagators of Christianity, who sacrificed

their lives for the truth: it is there we shall blush to have indulged a

temptation to lay down our arms almost before we had begun the combat,

and to have been disheartened and discouraged by labors so light; when

those holy ministers of God had defied tribulations, anguish, hunger,

nakedness, persecution, fires, gibbets, and all the fury of tyrants, who

would have separated them from the love of God in Christ Jesus their Lord:

 

it is from thence, my brethren, that we should always return with a new

taste for all the functions of our office — with a new zeal for the salvation

of souls: returning from thence, what before appeared burdensome and

painful, would now become light, yea, delightful to us; and the fatigues and

contradictions of sinners, inseparable from the duties of our office, would

be to us a most comfortable proof of our calling to the ministry of the word.

Let none of us, my brethren, deceive ourselves: without the constant

exercise and life of prayer, we continually feel every thing which is

disagreeable and distressing in our ministry: we draw in a yoke which

overpowers us: we bear with reluctance the burden and heat of the day. But

by prayer all is sweetened: the yoke is no more heavy: the labors increase;

but the pain, the disgust, the discouragements, vanish away.

 

You

sometimes, my brethren, perhaps, are ready to complain of the oppression

and weariness of Spirit which the multitude and difficulties of your

avocations bring upon you, and of your inability to fulfill your duties: but if

you address yourselves constantly to him who changes our weakness into

strength. If you be faithful to the duty of prayer, these difficulties will

disappear; the mountains will become plains; you will find your selves new

men; and you will no longer complain, but that you have not labored or

suffered enough for Jesus Christ.

 

  1. IF PRAYER ALONE CAN SWEETEN ALL THE PAINS AND

DISCOURAGEMENTS ATTENDANT ON THE EXERCISE OF

OUR SACRED FUNCTIONS, IT ALONE CAN PREVENT, OR

DELIVER US FROM, ALL THE DANGERS TO WHICH THEY

EXPOSE US.

 

  1. As there is nothing, perhaps, more dangerous in our situation than the

dissipation of mind which is, almost unavoidably, more or less produced

by the constant administration of exterior duties, I will venture to assert that

the exercise and spirit of prayer can alone preserve us from its bad effects.

 

It is in reality but too true, that the inward man weakens, and the life of God

decays in the soul, in the midst of all the public exercises and constant

activity which our ministerial office requires, if we do not continually give

ourselves to prayer. We are real losers ourselves, while we give up

ourselves incessantly to the wants of others; we lose the secret and hidden

life of faith, in which consists the whole soul and life of piety: we accustom

ourselves to be all outward, always from home, and never within our own

hearts: we at last appear before the people to perform the public duties of

our office with dissipated spirits, divided by a variety of foreign and

tumultuous images which occupy them; and we no more experience the

silence of the senses and of the imagination, in respect to every thing but the

great and solemn work on which we are entering, which is so necessary to

call us back to a holy recollection, and to a secret consciousness of our utter

unworthiness and incapacity of ourselves to stand between the living and

the dead. Alas! we are no more acquainted with these things!

 

Thus, in

laboring always for others, and hardly ever for ourselves, the spiritual

strength of the soul wears out we live entirely out of ourselves; we give

ourselves up to this life of hurry and agitation; and we at last become

incapable of any profitable communion with ourselves or with God; we

even seek for occasions and pious pretexts to fly from retirement; we cannot

be in any wise comfortable without the company of others, and are

immediately tired with God alone.

 

  1. Now, this conduct and disposition of mind, which have nothing

blameable in them in the judgment of the world, appear in a very different

light in the sight of God. Alas! we quite exhaust our spiritual strength, if we

be not continually repairing it at the footstool of the throne of grace; all our

cares and solicitudes are confined to external things; we act and stir

outwardly for God, but we do not commune and wrestle privately with

him, though true love thinks all hours too short in communing with its

Beloved. We run, but we run alone: the Lord, whom we neglect to call to

our assistance, leaves us to our own weakness; and our ordinary humor,

temper, vivacity, vanity, and love of popularity, rule us, rather than the

genuine love of our duty, and the love of son Is.

 

  1. There is nothing but faithfulness in the exercise of prayer, which can

save us from these rocks: and, without neglecting in the least degree the

necessary functions of our ministry, we may live in this blessed exercise;

we may continually carry with us that spirit of piety and recollection, which

moderates, regulates, and sanctifies all our external duties, and even makes

them so many preparations for returning with still greater advantage to

retirement, recollection, and communion with God. It is for these reasons,

that we are repeatedly informed in the gospels, that our Lord warned his

disciples to watch and pray, that they might not enter into temptation,

<402641>Matthew 26:41. In St. Luke he says,” Watch ye, therefore, and pray

always;” <422136>Luke 21:36. And in St. Mark, “Take ye heed, watch and pray,”

<411133>Mark 11:33.

 

  1. OUR NECESSARY INTERCOURSE WITH THE WORLD

MAKES THE CONSTANT EXERCISE OF PRAYER

AN INDISPENSABLE DUTY.

 

  1. Though the exercise, the spirit, the very life of prayer, are absolutely

necessary for the salvation of every private Christian, we ministers, more

than others, have continually need of the help of prayer. The more our

duties lead us into the midst of the world, the more do they expose us to its

vanity and seductions, if they be not supported by the spirit of prayer. It is

not sufficient, that we are not infected or debilitated by the contagious air

which we must there breathe; we are required to appear among men, clothed

with more strength, more modesty, more virtue, more holiness, than the

generality of professors themselves, in the midst of whom we must daily

be: we ought everywhere to be the sweet savor of Jesus Christ.

 

But how

difficult must it be for a minister, if the habit of prayer has not established in

him a certain solidity of virtue, to find himself continually in the midst of

the abuses and dissipations of a vain world, to hear daily the apologies

which the world makes for itself and not be shaken or weakened in the

spiritual life thereby! He carries with him a heart void of all those deep

sentiments of religion which the habit of prayer alone can engrave upon the

soul, and influenced by all those inclinations which can render the world

amiable to him! There are but too few among believers, who do not,

sometimes, feel themselves inwardly seduced and shaken by the objects

which surround them: what then can that minister do, who carries with him

but his weakness and his frailties? And though decency may keep him

within certain bounds; yet still the world is in his heart;

 

he adopts it for his

own; and there is nothing now to be observed, even in his public

administrations, of that firmness and becoming majesty which announce the

minister and ambassador of God: he is now like salt which has lost its

savor; and which is not only unable to preserve other things from

corruption, but is itself changed into rottenness and putrefaction.

 

  1. A minister, therefore, who lives without the habit of prayer, without

fidelity to that sacred and indispensable means of grace, however

irreprehensible he may otherwise be in the eyes of men, is but the shadow

of a minister; he is but a bare representation of a pastor of the flock of

Christ: he has not the soul, the reality of that holy vocation; and his whole

ministry has nothing in it but an empty title; which neither binds him to

God, with whom he has no communication, nor to the church of God, to

which he is of no manner of use.

 

  1. When I speak of the necessity of prayer for a minister of the gospel, I do

not mean that this holy exercise should occupy the greatest part of the day:

he owes himself to his flock, and his public duties ought never to suffer by

the length of his prayers. But I understand hereby that prayer should always

precede his public duties, and sanctify them; I mean, also, that the spirit of

prayer should accompany him throughout; that he should in every thing,

even in the most indifferent of his actions, show forth that “inward man,

which is renewed” through prayer, “day by day,” <470416>2 Corinthians 4:16, —

that secret commerce with God, wherein consists the essence of religion

and piety; that he render his ministry in all places respectable, and make his

very presence alone an instruction to all those who approach him. Behold

what I understand by the spirit of prayer, so essential for a minister of the

church of God.

 

  1. We are, my brethren, divinely appointed to combat the vices and unruly

passions of the world, to destroy the empire of the devil among men, and to

establish and to extend the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Our ministry snatches

us from external repose, and clothes us with armor: but our arms are only

prayer and faith working by love. It is from these divine arms, under grace,

that all our instructions, all our labors, and all our efforts, derive their

whole strength and success: without these, we are but weak, rash men,

exposed without defense in the midst of enemies, with whom we ought to

have been prepared to fight; and soon become the miserable sport of their

seductions, and of the snares which they continually throw in our way: that

is to say, we soon ourselves become like to them, whom we ought to have

converted to God and gained for Jesus Christ. Like minister, like people!

Would to God my observations were never verified. But, alas! from long

experience in the ministry of the word, I am indubitably convinced, that a

minister, without the spirit of prayer and habitual recollection, cannot long

be supported in the divine life; he becomes dissipated; he neglects his

duties, especially where a cross accompanies them; or he performs them

without piety, without any of that deep inward sentiment of true religion,

and often without that respect and holy dignity which the world itself

expects: till at last he becomes a stumbling-block and an offense to the

flock, and sometimes even a public reproach to the church to which he

belongs.

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Posted by on April 17, 2016 in academics, Bible, church, comparative religions, faith, leadership, theology

 

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